Presidential Leadership and the Clean Water Act: A 40 Year Retrospective

This fall marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act’s signing into law. This anniversary gives us the opportunity to celebrates the law’s successes and to assess it’s various failures and shortcomings. Because the Act is enforced by the EPA and state agencies under EPA directive, the executive has the unique authority to determine if and how the various provision will be enforced. On a few occasions, presidents have made CWA reform a top priority and have worked with Congress to amend it’s language.

It is my hope that, by studying the role that presidential leadership has historically played in the enforcement of the CWA, I will be able to illuminate many of the reasons behind the limited progress towards cleaner water made over the past 40 years. There is no doubt that, on the whole, our water is markedly cleaner now than it was in 1972. However, universal clean, safe, and swimmable water is still not a reality in this country. By studying the policy initiatives and outcomes of previous administrations, we can better understand what must be done in order to ensure the CWA’s future success.


I’ve enjoyed everyone’s posts so far and look forward to reading all of our proposals. See you in November!


Seth Morris


University of the South

About sethmorris91

Senior at the University of the South. Interests include Politics, Land and Water Conservation, Outdoor Adventures, College Football, Good Beer and Barbecue.
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3 Responses to Presidential Leadership and the Clean Water Act: A 40 Year Retrospective

  1. ecs2153 says:

    Your paper sounds really interesting. I too am working with environmental politics but in a much different way. I want to basically see if there is a way to measure, from Presidential Speeches, how well a policy regarding alternative energy will fare fiscally. Can’t wait to read your paper!

  2. mattgenova1 says:

    I really like the idea of your paper because clean water is, theoretically, an issue that we should all be able to agree upon (very few people can logically argue that access to clean, safe water isn’t important). It will be interesting to read your analysis of the policy differences that have prevented this from becoming a reality, and I hope what you find can illuminate a course forward for more progress on clean water legislation in the future. I’m definitely excited to hear more about what you find come November!

  3. Hi Seth! Your topic sounds really interesting, and important and relevant as well. I know next to nothing about the CWA, but was wondering just how far we’ve come since 1972? Is there still enough room for improvement to call for a substantive change in current action/strategy, or have we somewhat necessarily leveled off? Is a reality of “universal clean, safe, and swimmable water” even possible? Good luck on your research—I’ll be interested to hear about what you learn!

    By the way, I like your “interests”—especially the last three, haha.

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